The curse of Lorem Ipsum

Header image, random newspaper print with 'The Curse of Lorem Ipsum' superimposed

Anyone who has worked anywhere that touches a layout – digital design, print media, POS, product design and countless other areas – has surely encountered Lorem Ipsum.

Lorem Ipsum is mangled Latin nonsense (although it was originally sourced from text by Roman philosopher Cicero) designed to fill areas for content in layouts – webpages, magazine layouts, shampoo bottles etc.

History

Lorem Ipsum was originally used in the 16th century simply to display type. What originally began as a necessity to demonstrate type form design, crucially not layout, it morphed at some point the intervening centuries to become a form of “greeking” – as in, “it’s all Greek to me” – and is now simply a lazy fall back, supposedly so you can “get an idea” of how copy looks in situ, a rough idea of how a design could look when it’s finished.

Lorem Ipsum is a form of 'Greeking' - as in "it's all Greek to me"

This can be all well and good, but rarely. The rough idea you’re getting, is a whole lot rougher than it could and – if you want to create quickly – should be. Ironic if you think it is used to save time.

So how did we get from a monk’s creative solution for demonstrating his wares, to a definitively uncreative shrug of the shoulders when it comes to demonstrating design?

The rough idea Lorem Ipsum provides is fine - but not if you want to create quickly

Why?

Another phrase, although slightly older – from the Bible (Proverbs 19:15), is “Laziness begets laziness” and Lorem Ipsum’s more recent history both explains its growing prevalence and perfectly demonstrates the Proverb.

The text summarising Lorem Ipsum’s history: “Lorem Ipsum has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book” is now in itself common dummy text – laziness begetting laziness.

The text summarising Lorem Ipsum’s history has itself become dummy text - laziness begets laziness

Searching this text produces over 4.23 million results, compared to Lorem Ipsum’s 55.2 million. Some proportion of these may be due to people actually detailing the history of Lorem Ipsum, using the phrase verbatim – which, again, is lazy – but spot-checking a handful of results on pages one and two of the SERP show it’s actually used as dummy text.

 
 

 

Using Lorem Ipsum, Hipster Ipsum, Samuel L Ipsum, Bacon Ipsum, or any other “hilarious” dummy text generators available online is a lazy habit which creative teams would do well to abandon.

The rise of proto content

Instead of using dummy text, use proto content – a rough and ready first draft of copy.

Perhaps the best, and certainly easiest, use case would be a simple site redesign but even in a complete overhaul of an ecosystem, old copy will be a lot more relevant than Latin gibberish.

And if you truly are starting from the ground up with nothing to go on, write your own content.

In the age of T-shaped marketers, we’re expected to be able to, if not do, then at least have an opinion on any number of specialities – analytical, technical, creative. The ability to generate snippets of copy for a brand whose identity you’re supposedly now an authority on should not be a stretch.

Anyone can generate snippets of copy better than Lorem Ipsum

How far you take this, simply jotting up copy appropriate to a wireframe or PSD, or creating what could reliably be called a first draft, is up to you, but both are better than Lorem Ipsum by an order of magnitude.

For some, this advice will fall on deaf ears, many people will simply refuse to venture so seemingly far out of their specialism’s comfort zone for one reason or another. The answer here, like virtually always, is collaboration.

Collaboration between teams and departments makes Lorem Ipsum redundant

Work with your content teams to make use of their audit insights, work with your copy teams to make use of their drafts or notes, work with your analytical teams to find the gems on previous sites and use that content.

If all else fails - with heavy disclaimers - use tweaked competitor content.

Example

Let’s take a look at a sample layout for a clothing product:

 
 

Example 2 is the current layout example on Squarespace’s Adirondack theme preview – the copy here has purposefully been written quickly and, unfortunately, with not enough knowledge of fashion.

In the first example, the layout is 100% placeholder which in many design studios, can be enough to achieve sign off. In the second, an example title, image, price, designer and breadcrumb have been added while in the third, product copy has also been added.

Which of the three provide the most context for advising further changes?

Proto content is not exclusively for the benefit of copywriters - Every other department can contribute better with proto content

It’s important to note here, that using proto content is not exclusively for the benefit of copywriters. While it does make their lives significantly easier, literally every other department can contribute in a more meaningful way.

If the text is not enough, or too long, the designer can pinch in margins, increase font size or provide more space. A UX designer could see that there is no scope for recommended products – especially important if increasing Average Order Value (AOV) is a significant KPI.

With proto content in place, the questions will come thicker and faster:

  • If the product forms part of an outfit, how does the layout look and behave with multiple pictures?
  • If the product name is longer, how does the headline’s break onto extra lines affect other aspects of the layout?
  • What if the product is not in stock? Or on sale?

And so on.

The questions using proto content raise would require a leap in imagination using only Lorem Ipsum – some may be obvious but many not so. Who would you rather spot them first, you or the client?

Proto content raises questions requiring a leap in imagination using only Lorem Ipsum – Who would you rather spot them first, you or the client?

For the extra 10 minutes of work, either during UX wireframing or from the designer during comping, you can get more insights, shorten turnaround times and even provide scope for more revision rounds.

Quotes

Don’t just take our word on it, here are some thoughts from our friends across the industry and the departments:

If a project is in its absolute infancy - low fidelity wireframes or sketches - I don't mind Lorem Ipsum but beyond that I want to see actual copy. If that means starting copywriting earlier, then so be it - the more detail I have the better opinion I can form
Profile picture of Nikhil Kalanjee, Digital Marketing Strategy, EMEA
 

 
Rough copy is always better, for aesthetics, for ideation, for review and, as writing is so often rewriting, can streamline the entire creative process.
Profile picture of Sacha Reeb, Chief Creative Officer, Manifest, Chicago
 

 
We were getting on with rough layouts for a popular food brand (I better not say who!) at a very early stage and I suggested a tag line. It was off the cuff and just to fit the space, and they ended up using it - it's still on their packaging today.
Profile picture of Andy Lepki, Marketing Sciences Manager, Critical Mass, London
 

 
Writing copy is an uphill struggle, and starting can be the hardest part. If I come to a project with content already in place, it makes that task invariably easier.
Profile picture of David Head, Senior Copywriter, Live & Breathe, London
 

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Hopefully this blog has changed your opinion on Lorem Ipsum and other placeholder text shortcuts.

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